Jay Vera Summer
"I told you I don't want a party," my little girl said solemnly, the moment after I woke her up saying, "Wake up! It's time for your birthday party!" She was officially six and even though she looked like an all-American girl with her shoulder-length blonde hair and chestnut brown eyes, she was different. She didn't want people to buy her things, she'd said, it seemed selfish. She didn't want kids from school to see the inside of our house, she'd said, it was "an invasion of privacy." I asked her introvert father if he'd taught her that phrase and he swore he hadn't. When I asked her where she heard it, she rolled her eyes. We hadn't thrown a birthday party when she turned four because I was changing jobs and we thought we couldn't afford it, and I felt guilty for that. We'd thrown parties when she turned one, two, and three, but she couldn't remember them, even after looking at photos.
"Look how happy you were," I'd told her, pointing to a photo of her unwrapping a sparkly pink bicycle with training wheels. "I didn't know better," she'd responded.
"I told you no party," she repeated now, her eyes—my eyes, everyone said, my large, brown eyes—opening wider now as she became more awake. Her breath quickened and her body stiffened. She thinned her lips and pressed them together, taking loud breaths through her nose. I knew what my mom would've said if she had still been alive: "What a brat."
I said nothing.
This was part of the surprise. The surprise not-party party. We were having a party. I mean, I'm her mom, I can't not do anything, especially after last year, but this party was one I thought she'd like—just me and her father as guests. No kids from school. Waffles with powdered sugar and strawberries—her favorite—instead of cake. One gift—a microscope—instead of many. No decorations, no games, no goodie bags.
"I told you," she muttered. She was fuming now, I could tell. I wondered if I should break the surprise. I had figured she'd be upset, but I didn't think she'd just lie in bed, scrunching up her face in anger, eyes darting around the room as if everything were unsafe, as if a party could pop up in any corner. I thought she'd complain then we'd walk downstairs and surprise her with her non-party and then she'd be relieved and her version of happy.
I wasn't sure if should keep it going though. I didn't want her to get into one of her moods. Her moods held more gravity than mine. I know my friends thought I catered to her too much. "Don't you want her to fit in?" they asked. "Sometimes you have to tell her no for her own good." I didn't know how to explain. She was only five, but she made it very clear that she would hate me, that she could hate me, she had the capacity. She'd hate me if I didn't take her seriously. I already worried she could hate me so much that she'd grow up and never talk to me again.
"Let's go downstairs, sweetheart," I said, kissing her forehead, which was now lined in sweat. "I think you'll find it's not as bad as you're expecting." Even though she stayed still, I could feel the tension radiating off from her, feel her small frame strengthening and sinking itself into the mattress, preparing to put up a fight if I dared try to pick her up.
"Honey," I yelled toward the staircase, which I could see through the door. "Maybe we should have the party up here today."
"Okay mama," he yelled back. "Whatever you say."
I smiled, giddy, ready to watch her expression soften and change when she realized her birthday party was a non-party, an anti-party even, ready to see her smile, ready to see her recognize that I did know her, that I was putting in the effort, taking the time. I wasn't trying to force her into doing the things everyone did just because everyone did them.
"I said I didn't want a birthday party!" My daughter jumped up onto her bed and I jumped up too. She leapt toward me and the last thing I remember seeing were her hands—ten fingers splayed and curled into claws. Pain shot from my eyeball to the back of my skull. For a split second I was so disoriented and shocked from the strange sensation traveling through my head, I wondered if she could've somehow popped my eyeball, the eyeball that looked just like hers, if I was feeling its contents splatter inwards.
I heard her run out of her bedroom. At the same time, I heard her father's singing: "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you..." It was getting louder, he must've been walking up the stairs.
Even though I was temporarily blinded, I saw what happened as well as if I had seen it with my own eyes. I saw it as if it happened in slow motion. Her running toward him, crazed, hands still pincer-like, grinding her teeth in resentment, blonde hair flying behind her as she leapt from the carpeted top step toward her dad. Her small, flat chest crashing into the plate in his hands, first bumping it so it tilted toward him, smashing waffles, strawberries, and maple syrup on the front of his light blue pajama shirt. Then her whole body colliding with his, her skinny arms wrapping around his head as he tilted backward and fell, hitting his head on the wooden bannister behind him where the stairs took a turn, knocking him out so he didn't have to hear the plate crash and break on the tiled floor below, the silverware loudly bouncing. So he didn't have to hear his vertebrae crunching, paralyzing him from the neck down, as his daughter yelled, "I told you no! I told you!"
Jay Vera Summer
is a writer and artist living in Florida. She loves animals, plants, and water. Her work may be found in marieclaire.com, Proximity, Luna Luna Magazine
and more. She cofounded the online literary magazine weirderary
. Find her on Twitter @jayverasummer